The young couple doesn’t say much when they visit the remote hydroelectric dam.
“No fish ladders,” she complains. “Wonder how they got around that?”
There’s not a lot of spark between them, even when they’re shopping for a ski boat. They have a pickup with a trailer hitch. So they close the deal — with greenbacks.
“Cash, the poor people’s money.”
What they plan to do with this boat and when they plan to do it is what the quiet, sometimes tense thriller “Night Moves” is about.
The latest film from the director of “Meek’s Cutoff” and “Wendy & Lucy” is set within the off-the-grid/love-the-land eco-terrorism movement. Kelly Reichardt is practiced in the art of storytelling with little dialogue/less music, and that gives “Night Moves” a serenity even amidst the rising suspense and paranoia that follows as this terror cell makes its plans.
Josh, given a deflated, sensitive veneer by Jesse Eisenberg, seems to be running the show. Dena, played by Dakota Fanning with a spoiled, smart impatience, is his sidekick, gifted at lying on the fly, should that become necessary.
And it does. Because the guy who can turn the boat into a bomb, Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) may be ex-military. But he’s careless, the sort of fellow who dismisses each new concern with “This is nothing.”
Good thing there’s a paranoid planner and talented liar on hand to take care of the details, like buying the fertilizer to mix with the diesel fuel to load into the boat so that Harmon, who doesn’t sweat details, can set the fuse. Because that’s just the sort of guy you want doing that.
Reichardt, who co-wrote the script with Jon Raymond, has never been very good at bringing urgency to her movies. They amble along, which both suits this film and hampers it. The Brit Marling eco-terrorism vehicle “The East” was better at creating tension. But Reichardt creates a more convincing subculture of Mother Earth activists — young people living on media-deprived co-ops, frequenting organic farmers’ markets and trying to live “off the grid” in the most cell-phone connected, privacy-menaced era in human history.
Then we follow Dena, code-named “D,” into the rural Oregon farm supply store and we understand the extreme corner of that world, another reason privacy is under attack. Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer, the McVeigh weapon of choice? And you want HOW much?
“Controlled substance,” says the hardcase store manager (James LeGros).
Sarsgaard brings a devil-may-care menace to his slacker and Fanning nicely transitions her character from headstrong idealist to someone who starts to realize that idealism has its limits and its consequences.
But Reichardt hangs her film on Eisenberg, who subtly suggests a loner whose primary gift for the cause is he whole in his soul where a longing or human contact should be. It’s a terrific performance and it holds the movie together even as “Night Moves” stumbles toward its foregone, and rather poorly handled, conclusion.
MPAA Rating: R for some language and nudity
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, James Le Gros
Credits: Directed by Kelly Reichardt, written by Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt. A Cinedigm release.
Running time: 1:58
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